Allied Warships

HMS Matabele (F 26)

Destroyer of the Tribal class

Photo from Imperial War Museum (IWM), A-6591

NavyThe Royal Navy
PennantF 26 
Built byScotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. (Greenock, Scotland) 
Ordered19 Jun 1936 
Laid down1 Oct 1936 
Launched6 Oct 1937 
Commissioned25 Jan 1939 
Lost17 Jan 1942 
Loss position69° 21'N, 35° 27'E

Pennant numbers:
F 26 January 1939 - Autumn 1940
G 26 Autumn 1940 - January 1942.

HMS Matabele arrived at Plymouth, England on 26th January 1939 and after completing her sea trials went to Portland England to join the 2nd Tribal Destroyer Flotilla. After the outbreak of World War 2, she had to be docked in order for two new propellers to be fitted but she was made ready in time to rescue the submarine HMS Spearfish on the 26/27th September 1939.

In April 1940, Matabele joined the Home Fleet destroyer screen in the North Sea. She moved up and down the fjords of Norway ferrying soldiers ashore at Namsos and screening transports out to sea during the daytime. While operating in Norway, she ran onto the Fasken Shoal but managed to get back to her home port safely. On 17 May 1940 thr light cruiser HMS Effingham runs aground on an uncharted rock on Faksen Shoal in Vestfjord carrying troops to Bodo to help block the German advance on Narvik. She is later torpedoed and destroyed with gunfire by HMS Matabele and abandoned.

Repairs were substantial and the opportunity was taken to replace the 'X' mounting with a twin 4" AA gun. This work was completed at Falmouth, England by mid-August 1940.

In April 1941, Matabele underwent an extensive refit at Barrow-in-Furness, England. The refit was completed on the 27th May but the ship ran aground when leaving Barrow. The resulting repairs meant that she could not rejoin the Home Fleet until August 1941. Due to the German invasion of Russia, Matabele was immediately assigned to Russian convoy duty.

On 8 January 1942, HMS Matabele and HMS Somali were ordered to join the escort of convoy PQ-8. On 17 January, just off Kola Inlet, HMS Matabele (Cdr. Arthur Caerlyon Stanford, DSC, RN) was torpedoed by the German submarine U-454 and sank in two minutes in position 69º21'N, 35º27'E. Even in that short time, many had managed to abandon ship only to die from hypothermia in the icy waters.


Hit by U-boat
Sunk on 17 Jan 1942 by U-454 (Hackländer).

U-boat AttackSee our U-boat attack entry for the HMS Matabele

Commands listed for HMS Matabele (F 26)

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1Cdr. George Kelvin Whitmy-Smith, RN10 Jan 19391 May 1940
2Cdr. Robert St. Vincent Sherbrooke, RN22 May 194015 Apr 1941
3Cdr. Arthur Caerlyon Stanford, DSC, RN15 Apr 194117 Jan 1942 (+)

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Notable events involving Matabele include:

31 Aug 1939
Around 1800 hours, the Home Fleet departed Scapa Flow to patrol between Scotland, Iceland and Norway for returning German merchant vessels.

Ships that participated in this patrol were; battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. Sir E.N. Syfret, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN), light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN), HMS Belfast (Capt. G.A. Scott, DSC, RN) (from the 18th Cruiser Squadron), HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN), HMS Cardiff (Capt. P.K. Enright, RN), HMS Dunedin (Capt. C.E. Lambe, CVO, RN), HMS Emerald (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) (from the 12th Cruiser Squadron), HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clark, RN), HMS Calypso (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN), HMS Diomede (Capt. E.B.C. Dicken, RN), HMS Dragon (Capt. R.G. Bowes-Lyon, MVO, RN) (from the 7th Cruiser Squadron. These ships were escorted by destroyers from the 8th Destroyer Flotilla; HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN).

To patrol off the Skagerrak was the battlecruiser squadron which was made up of the battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. Sir I.G. Glennie, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN) which were escorted by destroyers from the 6th Destroyer Flotilla; HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Tartar (Capt. G.H. Warner, DSC, RN). (1)

9 Sep 1939
HMS Oberon (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Cumberbatch, RN) departed Portsmouth for Dundee. She was escorted until around 1900 hours by HMS Skate (Lt.Cdr. A.O. Johnson, RN).

During the night of 9/10 September 1939 HMS Oberon was in company with HMS Bittern (Cdr. G.F. Stevens-Guille, OBE, RN) and HMS Enchantress (Cdr. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN).

Around 0930/10, HMS Oberon, took station astern of a convoy until 1600 hours when she joined HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) which remained with Oberon until she was off Dundee on the 13th. (2)

25 Sep 1939
At 0755 hours, HMS Triumph (Lt.Cdr. J.W. McCoy, RN), sighted two Tribal class destroyers steering directly toward her. The submarine fired a smoke candle and dived to 120 feet. Communications by SS/T was established, one of the destroyers apparently was HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and they left the scene. (3)

9 Oct 1939
HMS Royal Oak (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.E.C. Blagrove, RN) departed Scapa Flow to patrol to the west of the Fair Isle Channel. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and HMS Sturdy (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Cooper, RN).

10 Oct 1939
In very heavy seas, HMS Royal Oak (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.E.C. Blagrove, RN), had lost touch with her escorting destroyers HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and HMS Sturdy (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Cooper, RN). Course was therefore set to return to Scapa Flow.

9 Apr 1940
At 0700 hours (zone -1), HMS Manchester (Capt. H.H. Bousfield, RN) and HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN) both joined the C-in-C in the Home Fleet.

At 1140 hours, HMS Manchester (Capt. H.H. Bousfield, RN), HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) were detached for an operation in Norwegian territorial waters (operate against German forces in water at and around Bergen). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. P.L. Vian, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN).

Soon after 1400 hours however a signal was received cancelling the operation and the ships set course to re-join the fleet.

In the afternoon the German Luftwaffe however started to attack the ships and near missed lightly damaged HMS Southampton and HMS Glasgow. HMS Gurkha was however sunk. Survivors were picked up by HMS Aurora (Capt. L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO, RN) who was also on her way to join the Home Fleet at sea.

Later on the 9th most of the ships involved in the intended opertion against Bergen were ordered to proceed to Scapa Flow or Sullom Voe for refuelling. (4)

17 Apr 1940
Troopship Chrobry departed Lillesjona for Namsos to land more troops and stores together with the troops that had been put on board the destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. P.L. Vian, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN). The newly arrived AA cruiser HMS Curlew (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) went in with the Chrobry and the five destroyers while HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) remained at sea while the other AA cruiser, HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), was sent north to Skjel Fjord to fuel. The Empress of Australia was ordered to return to the U.K. escorted by HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) and the destroyers HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, RN) and HMS Whirlwind (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Rodgers, RN). HMS Highlander (Cdr. W.A. Dallmeyer, RN) was also initially have to been part of this escort but she had run aground while on A/S patrol off Lillesjona around 0130 hours and had been damaged. She was detached soon after departure for the Tyne where she was to undergo repairs. Shortly before Highlander was detached she forced a German submarine to dive which enabled the convoy to pass unharmed.

At 0200/18 unloading of the Chrobry was halted and she went out to sea again with 170 tons of stores still onboard. She had to clear the area before daylight and the expected air attacks. She was to return the next night. Chrobry indeed succeeded in landing her remaining stores in the evening of the 18th. She then took on board a cargo of timber and set course for the U.K. escorted by HMS Sikh and HMS Mashona. HMS Matabele and HMS Curlew meanwhile had gone back to the U.K. for fuel. HMS Manchester was also on her way back home but was ordered to return to assist a French convoy that was next to land troops at Namsos. HMS Manchester could not be back in time to assist in the landings but course and speed were adjusted so as to meet the convoy at sea and escort it on the return passage. HMS Manchester joined the convoy in the evening of the 20th and remained with it until off the Shetlands the next day after which she was detached and set course for Scapa Flow. HMS Cairo had meanwhile also returned after fueling at Skjel Fjord and assisted the French during the landings. Cairo then returned to the U.K. bolstering the escort of the French convoy. (4)

17 May 1940
HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN), and loaded with troops, HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), HMS Coventry (Capt. R.F.J. Onslow, DSC, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) departed Harstad for Bodo to land Allied troops there.

18 May 1940
In the evening, HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN), ran aground on Faksen Shoal near Bliksvaer at high speed. The troops on board were taken to HMS Coventry (Capt. R.F.J. Onslow, DSC, RN) by being ferried by HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN).

HMS Coventry also hit rocks and damaged a fuel tank. HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) was more seriously damaged to her hull when she too grounded. She was able to get off. She returned to the U.K. for repairs which took until mid-August to complete.

HMS Effingham could not be salvaged and was torpedoed by HMS Matabele not to be of use to the enemy.

On 21 May 1940, while en-route to the U.K. for repairs, HMS Matabele shelled and torpedoed the wrecked cruiser again to be she was throroughly wrecked.

24 Oct 1940
HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN) HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Matabele (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN) sink the German weather ship WBS 5 / Adolf Vinnen (391 BRT) some 25 miles north-west of Stadlandet, Norway.

This sinking is often credited to the British submarine HMS Seawolf but this is not correct.

Media links

U-Boat Attack Logs

Daniel Morgan and Bruce Taylor
($ 54.42)
(£ 45.00)
(EUR 43.78)

British destroyers & frigates

Norman Friedman

Destroyers of World War Two

Whitley, M. J.


  1. ADM 199/393
  2. ADM 173/15802
  3. ADM 199/1848
  4. ADM 53/112663 + ADM 186/798

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

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